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New Challenges and Opportunities

Officers walking on wires | Officers on Ski PatrolLaw enforcement is not a traditional 9 to 5 desk job, nor are its ranks filled with stereotypical figures from TV and movies. Today, law enforcement offers a career environment that is diverse in both opportunity and personnel.

Law enforcement officers are empowered with the awesome responsibility and authority to maintain public order. At the same time, officers have the unique opportunity to engage with citizens, identify and solve problems, and positively affect their communities on a daily basis. The result is a dynamic profession that blends tactical response, critical thinking, and interpersonal skill. Law enforcement agencies respond to tens of thousands of calls for service each year. Each day presents new challenges that require application of these varied skills in new and different situations.

Policing offers a variety of experiences throughout your career with a range of training, special assignment, and professional advancement opportunities. Training does not stop after the academy. State-mandated training requirements ensure that officers will continue to develop and hone their skills. After an average of two years in uniformed patrol, officers may have the opportunity to branch off into specialization areas based on their interests and ambitions. These special assignments vary by agency but typically include investigations; alternative patrol (e.g., bicycle, mounted); and traffic enforcement, just to name a few. Furthermore, for those who desire a leadership role, the opportunities for advancement are great.

With more than 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, there is plenty of variety in location, type of agency, and specialization.

Type of agency Number
of agencies
Number of full-time
sworn officers
All State and local 17,985 731,903
Local police 12,501 446,974
Sheriff 3,063 175,018
Primary State 50 58,190
Special jurisdiction 1,733 49,398
Constable/Marshal 638 2,323
Note: Special jurisdiction category includes both state-level and local-level agencies. Consolidated police-sheriffs are included under local police category. Agency counts exclude those operating on a part-time basis.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008

Law enforcement is a professional job, requiring a variety of skills. While policing has not forgotten its roots, it has evolved into a modern profession involving a range of skills from technical writing and problem solving to applied sociology and technological know-how. Law enforcement offers a depth and breadth of opportunity, from smaller departments where an officer may be a jack-of-all-trades to larger departments where the work can be highly specialized. Regardless, you’ll find a diversity of job types within policing.